1. Daughter of Lawaan: Before We Begin

1. Daughter of Lawaan:  Before We Begin

Foreword by Lorena Sellers

I was born Lorena Llevado, the daughter of Tarcila and Loreto Llevado. I grew up in the seaside barangay of Guinob-an, municipality of Lawaan, in Eastern Samar, Philippines. At 19 I left home and went to live in Manila–and then when I was 21, I met an American named Michael Sellers who was so tall (6’5″) that I was a bit frightened of him at first. But he turned out to be kind, and gentle and funny — and he spoke Tagalog which is very unusual for a foreigner in the Philippines.

I found that he was very patient and gradually I came to trust him. We were married in the chapel at Subic Bay Freeport in 1999, when I was 25. Since 2000 we have been living in the United States. He had four children from his previous marriage, two of whom live with us now. I have no children of my own, but I’m blessed with more 60 nieces and nephews, most of them still living in Guinob-an. Every other year I go back to Guinob-an for our fiesta on May 1, and while I’m here in the US, almost every night at the end of our workday here I am on the phone with my sisters, my mom, and my nieces and nephews. So, I live in America now but my heart is in the tiny town where I grew up. Michael, who loves the Philippines as much as I do and speaks our language (well, he speaks Tagalog anyway, not Waray) has, for years, wanted me to write down my story but I’m not a writer. I am also a little shy because my English is not perfect, although when I write I can usually avoid making mistakes (and he can catch the ones I miss). So after some negotiations we have decided to do this together. The way we work is that he sits down with me and interviews me about my story, taking notes and sometimes recording the interview, then takes what I’ve said and puts it into a written version. Then I go over it with him and clarify things, and we make changes together. So we are doing it as a team, which is how we do everything anyway. With his help I am happy to make a record of my journey, and to create a place where my parents and brothers and sisters and all my nieces and nephews can be remembered. I also hope this will help me connect with friends, old and new, from our town and other places. Thank you for taking the time to visit here.


I lived for 15 years in the Philippines, first serving at the US Embassy in Manila, and then going on to produce films in Manila and later in Subic Bay Freeport — formerly Subic Naval Base — where I also got involved in restaurants and other somewhat random enterprises. Ten years into my time in the Philippines I met a very remarkable young woman — twenty one year old Lorena Llevado. She was unlike anyone I had ever encountered in a life that had taken me around the world more than a few times–a hard to explain blend of innocence, girlishness, and ‘old soul’ maturity. Getting her to go out with me was a major challenge, and dating progress was slow. But my persistence gained traction, and three years later we were engaged and, a year after that, married. We moved to the United States a year after getting married and since that time have been living in Southern California where we both work for our film production and distribution company, Quantum Releasing. Rena is head of finance and adminstration, supervising four employees. She fits naturally into this world, and into her role in it. Yet one of the things I love most about her is the way her inner world still revolves around life in Guinob-an, Lawaan, where her mother, father, and most of her 11 brothers and sisters still live, along with nieces and nephews who now number somewhere in the vicinity of 65. As I have learned more and more about the way she grew up, I am touched by the life she lived as a small girl in a seaside village with no electricity, no running water, no TV, no ice, no roads in and out of the town, accessible only on foot or by water–and I am moved by her continued connection to the place and the people there. I dream of someday retiring there — once all my kids are gown and settled and I’m the “elder” in our family. For years I have wanted her to make a record of her life story –a journey that dwarfs the journey most of us make in our lives. Now, after much negotiation, she’s agreed to tell her story as long as I will help her with some of the niceties of writing. It’s her story, though — I’m her spellchecker, grammar checker, and I guess if we were in a broadcast booth describing a football game she’d be the play by play announcer and I’d be the color commentator. We do everything together and it’s fun to do this together.

One final note. As we have been working on this, I have not been able to resist building into it some background on the larger Philippine-American relationship. And so you’ll see that he narrative consists of sections that are Rena’s, based entirely on my interviews with her and her personal description of her life, and other parts are written by me (and labeled as such) — my attempt to provide context and get across some of the reasons why I have such a deep fondness and respect for the Philippines.


1 Comment

  • Art Gonzales

    January 3, 2014 at 11:09 pm Reply

    Lorena and Michael, you are a very impressive couple! May I wish you all the blessings this New Year!! (Jan 02, 20140). Art Gonzales (Filipino migrant to Canada, since 1997).

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